This is something I learned from Leslie Kaminoff, who in turn was taught by the modern master of yoga therapy, T.K.V. Desikachar. Don’t yet ask me what the other 10% is as I’m still learning and trying to figure this out (smile). I have a pretty good idea of what it might be.
I attended a 4 hour workshop with Kaminoff a few weeks ago on the anatomy of the breath and I’m now reading his 2nd. ed. of “Yoga Anatomy” with a bit of a different lens that I had read through it in the past. When talking about the breath, Kaminoff puts a lot of emphasis on the exhalation, stating that “if we take care of the exhalation, the inhalation takes care of itself. If we get rid of the unwanted, we make room for what is needed.” (Yoga Anatomy, pg. 8). Interestingly, I don’t think I’ve ever focused on my exhalation as much as on my inhalation in any kind of breathing practice in the past. It’s an interesting paradigm shift for me. Try it. Take five full breaths and focus on eliminating absolutely all of the air from your lungs before allowing any air back in. And I mean all of the air, leaving no residue. See what happens when you inhale.
What’s with the toilet? Kaminoff and other yoga therapists also place great emphasis on the benefits yoga brings in terms of improved bowel function. In his words, many of us “are literally full of shit”. Learn to breath more efficiently, take in the nutrients that are good for your body, and give your organs a bit of a tune up by releasing some of the blockages and you will poop better, which in turn will have you feel better. Pretty simple. One of the main methodologies of all traditional yoga practice aims to resolve blockages or obstructions, which can include anything that causes pain or suffering, to improve function. By removing and working through anything that causes difficulty, uneasiness, or discomfort, we create space for the good of our own well-being. (Leslie Kaminoff)
On a more holistic level, this is how I see the relevance of the ninetieth percentile of waste removal involved in practicing yoga (on and off the mat):
Physical well-being: Refer to my post “40 Ways Yoga Heals” as well as what I just described about the exhalation and bowel function. There are some amazing physical benefits to a regular yoga practice and they may be slightly different for each person, depending on the state of your physical health.
Social well-being: In my view, waste removal in terms of social relationships has to do with doing an inventory of your social stalk and being very clear and honest with yourself about which of these relationships provide you with all the love, nourishment, and safety that you need. Relationships are interesting. I’m not suggesting cutting people off because I think cut-offs are not necessarily a healthy way of resolving things (sometimes yes, but often not). In some cases, forgiveness and letting go of the resentment we hold toward people we have cut off is the would be the waste removal in and of itself. It’s really just about awareness. It’s important for us to have people in our lives who help us flourish and if we take inventory and realize that we are carrying around some unwanted waste simply because we are avoiding taking a look at the impact of this (conflict, relationships that deplete us, unhealthy dynamics), perhaps a little clean up is needed in order to allow space for something new. For example, end the relationship that is no longer going well, or take some space from someone out of compassion for the fact that both parties are not happy, or make amends with someone you actually miss.
Environmental well-being: De-clutter, re-organize, throw things away, clean up your physical space at home, work, and/or in your car. Something shifts in our sense of wellness when we clean up our environment. It certainly is the case for me. Our environment plays a huge role in our overall health and it’s important to make note of the ways in which we maintain the physical space around us. Often, the way we maintain our physical space is a reflection of the way we place value on taking care of ourselves. Don’t let it go to shit, if you know what I mean.
Spiritual well-being: The way I mean it (the word spirituality) hear is in terms of how you make sense of life and death. For some that may be through religious beliefs, but for others it’s something entirely different. If you are going along with a spiritual path or belief that isn’t actually one that is a good fit for you, shake it up and move out of that bad pace. If you claim to have no spiritual beliefs, put the word spirituality aside and ask yourself what it is that is getting in the way of you feeling grounded and invigorated about living a meaningful life. How do you make sense of death? For me, my spiritual connection exists in nature. The waste I need to remove at times includes all of my excuses for not getting out in nature when life takes over and I start to feel overwhelmed.
Intellectual well-being: In my opinion, boredom is the greatest obstruction to a sense of intellectual well-being. It sucks. It leads to lethargic energy, which leads to lack of motivation, which just creates a sense of grossness and tiredness. When I work with teens who spend 60% of their days at school complaining about being bored and then say that they hate school, I encourage them to seriously get interested. Find a way. Make the material interesting. Seek out people and activities that create a sense of intellectual stimulation for you and say no to those people and activities that bring you down into a rut of boredom and meaninglessness. Figure out what you love doing and follow that direction. Figure out what it is that captivates you so much that you lose all sense of time when you’re engaged in it. We need to be challenged intellectually. It’s a part of our human make-up.
Emotional well-being: Purge the emotional crap when it comes up. Live it, breathe it, embrace it, and cry it out. Do whatever it takes to allow it to just be what it is without judgement. “What we resist persists”. If you are feeling sad or angry and you tell yourself to not feel sad or angry, the emotion will just linger or boil below the surface. Avoidance or suppression may help, but only temporarily. Someone once told me (when I wasn’t able to stop crying), “cry as hard as you possibly can, even harder than you are crying right now, and let it all out for 5 minutes. I guarantee you that you won’t last the full 5 minutes.” She was right. I embraced the sadness rather than shame myself for it and rather than telling myself that there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t stop. I cried my little heart out for a total of 3 minutes. Then, I felt ridiculous… so I stopped. I mean I literally stopped crying. The waste I need to eliminate was the unhelpful thoughts that kept telling me that I shouldn’t be crying (largely related to shame). The same goes for anger, grief, or any kind of hardship. As hard as it is, allow the emotion to come up, experience it fully but without acting on it, just observe it. Let it be without doing what we often are tempted to do: escape it. See what happens and let me know if it works for you.
The thing about these 6 dimensions of holistic health is that they are all connected. If you aren’t taking care of your emotional health, it will impact your relationships, which may impact the way you cope in ways that are not good for your body, which then… it’s just a negative spiral. Instead, make it a positive spiral. Take a look at what the root cause is when you are feeling bummed out and clean up the space, remove whatever waste is present.
Yoga therapy is 90% waste removal. I like that. It’s simple.